PoliticalNews.me - Nov 30,2016 - Senate Passes Bill to Boost Telehealth in Rural Areas
ECHO Act aims to build on innovative medical education model involving videoconferencing
WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the support of U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would expand on successes in telemedicine to improve access to health care in rural and underserved communities across America. Telehealth technologies such as videoconferencing are already making an impact in Maine, particularly for seniors, helping connect people with medical professionals while remaining within the comfort of their homes and supporting medical education efforts within the health care community.
“We’ve already seen how telemedicine can help revolutionize the delivery of health services in rural Maine. Videoconferencing, along with other advanced technologies, are bridging rural divides and connecting people to medical professionals, making health care services more accessible and more convenient than ever before,” Senator King said. “By advancing the innovative education and training model known as Project ECHO, this legislation will help us expand the encouraging telehealth trends that we are already seeing across rural America.”
The bipartisan legislation, the Expanding Connectivity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act, seeks to expand the positive impact of a medical education model, the Project Extension for Community Health Outcomes – known as Project ECHO – which utilizes interactive videoconferencing to connect primary health care providers in rural areas with specialist teams that provide teaching and mentoring.
Project ECHO has already been used to address conditions like Diabetes, Hepatitis C, chronic pain, and addiction. The ECHO Act aims to better integrate this model into health care systems across the country by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a study on the model and its potential impact for rural and underserved areas – as well as an analysis of the opportunities and barriers to implementation.
Rural communities face several challenges when it comes to health care, including higher rates of some chronic diseases, isolation, lack of transportation options, and decreased connectivity. And despite the fact that nearly one fourth of America’s population lives in rural areas, only about 10 percent of physicians are estimated to practice in those areas. The videoconference education and training provided through the Project ECHO model works to address some of those challenges by increasing knowledge for local primary care providers on the ground in rural communities, improving access to high quality care for patients, and decreasing health care system costs by promoting better quality of care closer to home.
As a member of the Health Information and Management Systems Society’s Capitol Hill Steering Committee on Telehealth and Healthcare Informatics, Senator King works with his colleagues to support technology developments that are revolutionizing the delivery of rural health care services. He is also a strong proponent of rural broadband – a critical component in the effort to expand telemedicine technology. In 2015, he held a roundtable discussion at the University of Maine that brought together state leaders from the health care, telecommunications, and education sectors to focus on the